By Prabhat Jha, CEO and Group Managing Director, MSC Shipmanagement
When you sit at the table eating your breakfast cereals or when you turn on your TV to watch the news, do you ever wonder where the goods we consume come from? Or how they are brought to you? Most of our everyday necessities such as medical supplies, fresh produce, clothes and food products are brought to us in containers. In fact, around 90% of the world trade is carried by sea. International shipping really is the lifeline of global trade, and shipping and the seafarers, are the silent heroes who keep the world moving even under extremely difficult conditions such as during a global pandemic.
There are over 50,000 commercial ships out there sailing the seas. These ships are moved by over a million seafarers, so naturally these seafarers become the most important cog in this wheel of world trade. Without them, the whole world trade would come to a halt.
This almost happened last year. Instead, the world trade kept flowing thanks to shipping and seafarers. But many seafarers are bearing a heavy toll as a result. According to the United Nations, hundreds of thousands of container ship crew members are stuck at sea beyond their contracts due to COVID-19 related restrictions put in place by several governments. Border closures, crew change bans and travel restrictions, are posing serious risks to seafarers’ wellbeing.
At MSC, one of the world’s largest container shipping companies, we believe it is critical for global trade and supply chains, as well as for our seafarers physical and mental health, that governments recognise their crucial role as key workers and prioritise them for vaccinations.
MSC is like a big family, which also includes our crew members working on board the ships. I take great pride in personally knowing all the Masters onboard our ships. We are very close to our seafarers, including their spouses and the children. When a situation like this arises, there is a great amount of empathy among all of us.
For us, the health and wellbeing of our seafarers has always been of paramount importance. In 2012, MSC established a Crew Welfare Department to enhance our efforts in protecting seafarers’ human rights, proactively addressing emerging risks as well as ensuring timely compliance with applicable new regulatory requirements. Another good example is that since 2013, MSC Shipmanagement has been working with a partner to provide medical benefits to our crew members through a harmonised approach that ensures that all seafarers, regardless of their nationality, have access to the same benefits.
MSC crewing offices have been in close contact with seafarers and their families to provide support since the issue began. Since the spread of COVID-19 worldwide, we have engaged directly with governments and intergovernmental bodies, as well as non-governmental organisations and industry groups, to campaign for better standards and protocols for crew changes. MSC is also a signatory to the Neptune Declaration for Seafarer Wellbeing and Crew Change, which brings together shipping industry peers to call for global recognition for these heroes of global trade and improve the situation for seafarers across the maritime world.
In addition to the physical exhaustion and other issues related to physical health, we remain very concerned about the mental health risks emerging during this pandemic. The crew onboard our ships spend a lot of time away from their families, even under normal conditions. With their movements restricted, conditions are even tougher. We are doing everything we can to help our seafarer colleagues cope with the challenging conditions and to minimise risks to our seafarers and global supply chains.
At MSC, we provide ongoing support to crew onboard and ashore. In addition to offering full internet access onboard our ships to help them stay connected with their loved ones, our seafarers have access to 24/7 psychological and medical support helping them to cope and manage stress, as well as promote overall wellbeing.
I am proud to say MSC stands by its seafarers and continues to work hard to ensure they are given the support and good treatment that they deserve. I wish to convey my deepest appreciation to my colleagues onboard of our ships who have really shown their dedication, professionalism and resilience during these difficult times, and ensured that the world trade kept moving. You are our heroes and you will remain our heroes.
For shipping to continue to operate in an efficient and safe manner, the safe cross-border travel for seafarers must be facilitated. Today, only around 60 governments recognise seafarers as keyworkers. Public health is key and MSC observes government COVID-19 restrictions wherever we operate. At the same time, we strongly believe all seafarers who undergo testing and other health precautions should be able to travel to and from work on container ships around the globe.